Groundbreaking project powers Australia's future using renewables

On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has today announced close to half a million dollars in additional funding for a Monash University-led project to investigate the integration of renewables into the national energy grid.

Announced today by the Federal Energy Minister, The Honourable Angus Taylor, ARENA will contribute a further $495,680 to this two-year project – bringing the combined project investment to $1.3 million.

Commencing in July 2020, this ground-breaking project will be supported by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and a number of industry partners, including AusNet Services and Hitachi ABB Power Grids.

Dr Tony Marxsen, Chairman of the Monash Energy Institute’s Grid Innovation Hub, and Dr Behrooz Bahrani, a Senior Lecturer in Monash University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering and the Director of the Grid Innovation Hub, will lead this project.

The study will undertake a classification of grid stability issues, and will explore a variety of techniques to manage them including the siting and operations of technology such as synchronous condensers, wind and solar farms, and battery systems incorporating advanced inverter systems.

The project aims to streamline connection of large renewable energy facilities to remote areas of the grid. This is a current pain-point in Australia’s transition to renewables, especially for solar and wind energy producers, due to local grid weakness in remote areas.

Dr Marxsen says the goal is to find a more systematised approach to connecting large renewable energy sources to power Australia’s future, from coast to coast, sustainably and affordably.

“Australia’s national grid has its strongest links between major cities and the nearest traditional sources of energy, typically coalfields,” Dr Marxsen said.

“Australia’s renewable energy future will use decentralised energy sources in areas of high winds and lots of sunshine – and these areas tend to be remote from cities, where the grid is weak. Even with the strengthened interconnections foreseen in AEMO’s Integrated System Plan, the problem of weak grids in remote areas will continue to challenge large renewable investments.

“This project is a vital step in tackling what is going to be an ongoing issue for decades not only in Australia but globally.”

The project will use the West Murray Region of the north west Victorian network as the case study, due to the region’s current system stability challenges.

Renewable sources have had difficulty gaining approval to connect to the grid in the West Murray region, including five solar farms.

Outcomes and outputs from the study will be applicable to other Renewable Energy Zones across the National Electricity Market, such as the Central West Orana Renewable Energy Zone in NSW.

AEMO flagged a number of technical issues affecting renewable-generation operation and connection to the grid in NSW and Victoria, including converter instability, low short circuit levels and thermal limitations.

Dr Bahrani said the West Murray region is a clear example of problems with renewable connectivity that will continue to plague Australian communities unless viable solutions are found.

“As each renewable project applies for connection to the grid, it is subject to detailed engineering analysis to ensure it won’t create problems that might affect grid stability and security,” Dr Bahrani said.

“The technical analysis is specialised and it takes a lot of time and skill to get it right. If the analysis reveals potential risk of problems, the development of solutions takes even more time and the dedication of even more highly specialised scarce resources.

“This project should provide insights and possibly even pre-engineered solutions to ease this burden and speed up connection approvals.”

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said: “Australia’s power system is currently undergoing a major transformation, with the rise in inverter-connected VRE. These renewable resources are typically located in weaker areas of the grid, causing stability issues.

“Monash’s study, while looking at north west Victoria, will aim to provide a solution for other renewable energy zones across Australia and help to increase the value delivered by renewable energy, reduce or remove barriers to renewables uptake and help to increase the overall skills, capacity and knowledge about the relevant technologies.”

AEMO Managing Director and CEO, Audrey Zibelman, said: “Australia has the technical capability to operate our power system with solar and wind generation contributing up to 75 per cent of our energy at times.

“AEMO looks forward to supporting this important government-funded project that will contribute to maintaining system security in a transitioning National Electricity Market with a high share of renewable resources.”

Background:

The Monash Energy Institute brings together 170 researchers at Monash University working on all aspects of energy, from new breakthrough battery technologies to national energy market design. The Institute’s Grid Innovation Hub is a collaborative research platform for Monash University and companies (Vicinity Centres, Advisian, Indra and AusNet Services) in Australia’s energy sector to sponsor research into key topics such as this one that are of major significance to the reform of energy systems globally.